How to Hop Off the Fast Track

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, December 16, 2007

Q I manage the accounting department of a national association. I'll turn 55 soon and will be eligible for the retirement health-care benefit. I won't be financially ready to stop working altogether, though. Any suggestions on how to work fewer hours with less stress? I could work part time at a bookstore, look for a less stressful job in my field or try to restructure my current job. I don't know if the last option is even possible. I feel that the whole culture is geared toward overachievers. It seems as if people used to slow down in their 50s in preparation for retirement and it was an accepted thing. I feel that if I went for an interview someplace and spoke honestly -- that I want to do an honest day's work and make a contribution, but work less than 40 hours a week and be able to leave the job behind at the end of the workday -- this would be the kiss of death.

A"You are not alone," said Deborah Russell, director for workforce issues at AARP, the seniors' organization. She said AARP's surveys of workers 50 and older indicate that many baby boomers plan to work past traditional retirement age -- but they do want to work differently, just as you do. Many are looking to simplify their responsibilities or perhaps create a more flexible schedule.

Many employers are happy to accommodate that desire, rather than lose access to that experience and wisdom entirely. But you won't get anything if you don't ask. "Perhaps a conversation either with your boss or with an HR representative might be your first step," Russell said.

If you don't make any progress at your current job, look elsewhere. Some employers actively court older workers.

The AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 program, for example, recognizes companies with what it calls "exemplary" policies and practices for these workers. For example, all of the companies honored provide alternative work arrangements for their employees. Another resource at AARP that Russell suggested is the National Employer Team, which connects older job seekers with job opportunities.

And while I wish this wouldn't make a difference, mention in your interviews that you wouldn't be relying on a prospective employer's health-care plan. Especially for a small organization, that may be all it takes to see what a bargain you really are, even on a half-time schedule.

I can't imagine any reason you would have to work part time in a bookstore, unless that's what you want to do. Your skills are just too valuable.

In recent years, there has been an enormous increase in our awareness of privacy violations, but there still seems to be an assumption that it is okay to disclose all kinds of personal information on r¿sum¿s and cover letters. At minimum, they reveal our name, address, phone, e-mail and job history. In addition, many of our r¿sum¿s include further personal information, such as civic interests, family composition, hobbies, etc. I don't care to have a total stranger know my entire work and education history, let alone other details about me.

To protect myself and my identity, the only thing that I have tried is to limit sending r¿sum¿s to employers I have some familiarity with. What are some other ways that I can protect my identity when I feel like I am expected to disclose private information?

Evan Hendricks, publisher of the Privacy Times newsletter, said your instincts about guarding this information are right, as job Web sites aren't immune to security breaches or phishing scams. "However, if you want a job, you gotta submit your personal info, so choose your prospective employers carefully."

Besides being judicious about where you send your r¿sum¿, you also want to be careful about what it includes. One important example: "Never put your Social Security number on a r¿sum¿," Hendricks said.

Hendricks also suggested that job seekers get a post office box if they're concerned about sharing their home address.

Limit contact information for an online r¿sum¿ to an e-mail address, perhaps one you have set up exclusively for this purpose.

Many of the other examples you give aren't appropriate for a r¿sum¿ at all, such as whether you're married or have children. Hobbies and civic activities should only be included if they relate to the job or if you have achieved some level of distinction at them.

Beyond that, relax. Where you have worked and gone to school might be personal, but I'm not sure I would call it private. It's not even useful to would-be identify thieves, who, after all, are interested in your credit card number, not your grad school GPA.

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